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How to Understand the Opposite Sex
by Janet Jacobsen
August 2002

All this raving by women that men never talk about their feelings has got to stop; men do talk about their feelings, but they phrase it differently than women do. And men need to hush up about how difficult it is to know what’s going on with women - a lament permanently enshrined by Fraud’s question, “What does a woman want?” We are telling you all the time, but you are paying attention to the wrong things.
The solving of these seemingly perpetual problems is a two-step process. One is that you have to phrase your question right in the first place, so that they understand the question on their terms. Then you have to translate what you hear back to the person in your own terms, and then negotiate from there.

ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
In our culture, men get lots of reinforcement for action, for analysis, for a Sergeant Friday “Just the facts, ma’am” approach to life. So they carry on much of their conversation in those terms.
Women, on the other hand, are raised with an emphasis on the process - how is everyone getting along? How are you feeling? How are things affecting you? Their approach emphasizes understanding and sympathy, rather than any call to action.
Which is not to say that men don’t have feelings or can’t be sympathetic, or that women can’t be factually- oriented or take action. It’s just that we tend to approach the world out of our particular viewpoints.
Consequently, ladies, when you want to know how a man feels about a subject, ask him what he thinks. “What do you think about how things are going at work?” Gentlemen, when you want to know a woman’s thoughts on a subject, ask her how she feels. “So how are you feel-ing about your car after all those repairs?”

REPEAT IT LIKE YOU HEARD IT
In both cases, the person will probably give you lots of information (assuming you’re a careful listener who doesn’t try to tell the other person what they are thinking, but really pays attention to what the other person says). When they do, tell them what you heard in your own terms.
So the work discussion goes like this:
“What do you think about how things are going at work?”
“The situation is looking pretty grim. Three more people are being laid off this week. Morale’s getting real low. I don’t know how much longer I’ll have a job.”
At this point she can summarize the feelings she thinks these statements represent. “Sounds like you’re getting worried about the situation.”
At which point he will probably say, “Of course I’m worried. Isn’t that what I just said?”
Or maybe he’ll say, “Not worried, really. But maybe nervous. Definitely nervous.” Now she knows what she wanted to know - how he’s feeling about his job.
The car conversation would go like this:
He says, “So how are you feeling about your car after all those repairs?”
“It makes me so angry I could just scream. I hate having to depend on auto-mobiles when they don’t work. I get upset just thinking about having to get in that car again.”
Here he summarizes what he’s heard in terms of the action they suggest. “Sounds like you’re thinking about trading this one in.”
At which point she will probably say, “Of course I have to trade it in. Isn’t that what I just said?”
Or maybe, “No, I’m not trading it in. I hate car shopping even more than I hate this car.” Now he knows what he wanted to know - what she wants to do about her car.

COMMUNICATION IS ONLY APPROXIMATE
Notice that in both cases it doesn’t really matter if the person’s interpretation of what they heard was wrong. By telling the other person what you think you’ve heard, it gives them a chance to clarify the situation, thus achieving the real goal for both people - understanding, and feeling understood.
Now it may well be that in both our examples, there is a lot more to be said, many more options to discuss, many more feelings to clarify. As long as the conversation follows this process - asking the question in their terms, clarifying what’s said in your own - you are likely to stay on course, and not get sidetracked into side issues (such as whether all men/women are all alike, etc.).
If you feel things going astray, state your position in their terms. He says, “What I’m trying to do is understand how you feel about this.” She says, “It’s important to me to understand what you’re thinking is on this.”
And what you will get, with enough practice, is a man who talks about his feelings and a woman who tells you what she wants. And then we’ll all have to look for something else to complain about.